P K Sundaram | Tehelka

Koodankulam marine life

At the unearthly hour of 2.45 am, the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited(NPCIL) decided to connect Koodankulam reactor-I to the grid. Was the timing decided by some vaastu-experts, as happens often in supposedly high-tech projects in this country of gold-diggers, or to coincide with Manmohan Singh’s timing in Russia? While one can keep guessing on that, the whole exercise has exposed the nuclear establishment’s lies, inefficiencies and dangerous misadventures.

Even before the jubilations in the media could settle, we le arnt that that Koodankulam reactor tripped and had to be stopped. While the NPCIL has claimed it was a ‘routine’ and the process will be re-started after tests and electricity production in Koodankulam will be gradually increased to the full capacity of 1000MWs, the Southern Regional Load Despatch Centre (SRLDC)’s in its offical report clearly said that there was a secondary system failure after being synchronised for the first time at 2.45am and the power plant “tripped due to reverse power.”

Evidently, there is something more to the story than the normal start-up troubles. As recently as on October 16th, the NPCIL had said two condensers had valve problems and had got stuck, and KKNPP-I be synchronised in November after attaining 400MW production capacity. On Tuesday, they synchronised the reactor tothe lectricity grid on just 160MW. Some media sources have even reported the output to be just 75MWs. What made the NPCIL hurriedly sync the reactor then?

The Indian PM was on a trip to Russia and the government would have felt that at least announcing synchronisation of KKNPP-I would provide some boost in the face of failure to finalise the agreement on Koodankulam 3 and 5. Like the US and french nuclear corporates, the Russian firm Atomsroyexport is not ready to abide by India’s Nuclear Liability Act on 2010 which mandates the operator’s “right of recourse” against the supplier. This liability issue and the high cost of Russian reactors seems to have prevented any final agreement between the two countries. The Russian President announced with fanfare on Tuesday that Koodankulam will be connected to the grid “within few hours”. He was reported saying that the reactor will start producing 300MWs of electricity- double the ammount announced by the NPCIL at home. The Indian PM had a sigh of relief as he had promised Putin, way back in his December 2012 trip to India, that Koodankulam-I will be started “within 2 weeks.” The start-up of Koodankulam has been an unending saga of such 15 days promises by the NPCIL, Mr. Narayansamy and the PM himself.

However, the tripping of Koodankulam-I implies much more more than just a hurried attempt to provide a symbolic great moment to the PM’s visit. It exposes the hollowness of the claims of the NPCIL experts that the repeated delays are a result of their “Quest for perfection” in safety. Extremely crucially components like valves have been repeatedly found defective and trouble-prone in Koodankulam and have delayed the commissioning. This proves the worst fears that have been brushed aside in India’s anachronistic nuclear pursuit: the Russian nuclear supplier Zio-Podolsk’s Director Sergei Shutov is in jail for a huge scam involving supply of sub-standard equipments in the batches that were supplied to India, China, Iran and other countries over past several years.

The petitioners in Koodankulam case in the Supreme Court did raise this issue but the court reposed faith in the NPCIL for judging on such technical issues. The NPCIL and the inherent secretive nature of nuclear industry has not allowed much of independent nuclclear expertise in India to flourish and perhaps the judges also did not have much choice. As a result, the NPCIL misled the court even on basic issues: it has no expertise on PWR-type reactors in Koodankulam and it passed off the AERB safety manuels related to a totally different deisgn – PHWRs – as a proof of its dilligence and sincerety. Similarly, several other very crucial questions were overlooked: the non-adherence of reccomendations of the post-Fukushima safety review, non-availability of adequate water supply in Koodankulam, exemption of nuclear liability for Koodankulam-I, and non-adherence to Environment Impact Assessement and Coastal Regulatory Zone stipulations on flimsy ground that these stipulations came into existence after the reactor project was started!

Far from being a product of a holistic policy for the country’s energy needs and its suitable solutions, India’s nuclear pursuit is based on international agreements animated by pursuit of legitimacy for its nuclear weapons and ensuring seat on the high table in exchange for nuclear purchase offers. There is an unmissable pattern: environmental clearance for Jaitapur was given ion 2010 when the then French President Nicholas Sarkozy was visiting India, Nuclear Liability Act was hastily finalised during Hilary Clinton’s visit, liability exemption for Mithi Virdi project in Gujarat during Manmohan Singh’s visit to US last month and a shodily done synchronisation of Koodankulam-I during the PM’s visit to Kremlin. In the form of nuclear energy deals, livelihoods and lives of its own people have become international bargaining chips for the government. Much like the country’s other resources – mines, rivers, forests, food, health or education, that the Indian ruling eliteis happily offering at the altar of its own brand of ‘development.’

We must not forget that Fukushima nuclear accident has taken a much worse turn in Japan in last few months and it has been forced to shut down again the two out of 54 reactors that were re-started after a complete close down after the accident in March 2011. The industry-regulator-politics nexus stands exposed in an advanced country like India and the lesson being drawn is that nuclear plants simply cannot be run in transparent and safe manner. The stress-tests following Fukushima have forced full or partial reversal of nuclear projects in many countries and international surveys have reported wide-spread popular disapproval of nuclear industry. On the countrary, India sent psychologists in Koodankulam to ‘counsel’ the protesters and slapped sedition charges of colonial vintage when that didn’t work. Thousands of activists and villagers in Tamil nadu continue to face fictitious criminal charges which the Supreme Court ordered to remove in its judgement. India’s democracy and safety are threated by an ill-concieved, unsafe, expensive, non-transparent and unaccountable nuclear expansion plan.

The author is Research Consultant with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace(CNDP) and can be contacted at [email protected]